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Gingerbread: Not as Difficult as You Think

Categories: Cooking, Crafts, Food

15 comments

No, really it isn’t!

DSC_01081

It’s like doing an edible craft!

Building a gingerbread house is one of our family traditions that the children really look forward to the week following Christmas. I usually bake it on December 30th. We decorate it as part of our New Year’s Eve festivities, and then break it and eat it on New Year’s Day. Sugar overload at it’s finest coupled with lack of sleep equals awesome.

I used to buy my kids those ready made gingerbread houses. They are largely not edible for anyone who doesn’t enjoy gnawing on cardboard or is over the age of six. But the kids liked making them and I was intimidated by the process of making a gingerbread house from scratch. I can barely build houses with blocks or legos how could I make one out of food?

A couple of years ago I decided to give it a try and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do. And how tasty homemade gingerbread is. This is different than gingerbread cake, by the way. I know I am stating the obvious here. But maybe not.

Gingerbread recipe:

1 C butter, softened
1 C brown sugar
1 1/4 C molasses
2 large eggs
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
6 C flour

Blend everything together.

Form into 3 or 4 thick patties.
Separate with wax paper and refrigerate for at least a hour.

Personally, I like to make this dough by myself the night before. The kids do not seem to understand that making the dough does not mean that we will also be making the house RIGHT THAT SECOND.

I double the recipe so that we have plenty extra for making gingerbread men while the house is baking and cooling.

If you only have one child you might want to make a waaaayyyy smaller house that what I have photographed. Therefore you would not need to double the recipe.

While the dough is chilling, make a house out of cardboard or heavy card stock. If you wait to do this after Christmas day you can use one of the gazillion cardboard boxes that presents came it. It is like recycling! So green of you!

the template house

This cut out will be your template for cutting out the dough. Make sure that the pieces fit together well and aren’t larger than your baking pans. Oh this is so important. I like to cut out the pieces and make sure that several fit onto a single pan.

Now go clean up all the spilled ingredients and piles of flour that are all over your kitchen.

The next day, or a few hours later…

Preheat the oven to 350. Once the dough is chilled, you will want to roll it out with your rolling pin. Liberal use of flour is recommended so that the dough does not stick to the rolling pin, table, or small children.

Cut out the pieces following your template.

cutting out the pieces

Place them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes. I usually set my oven for 7 minutes and the check every 3 minutes until they are done, because my oven is old and not all that accurate and I don’t have time to schedule a nervous breakdown in between rotating cookies sheets in and out of my oven.

ready to bake

Set them on a wire rack to cool completely. I let them sit cooling overnight. Uncovered, because you want them to be hard, or for the uninitiated in the gingerbread construction world, stale.

The Pieces

Your children will be impatient. This is where the making of gingerbread men comes in handy, offering them immediate gratification in both the decorating and eating categories.

The next day it will be time to piece the house together. Better yet, do this part at night when your children are in bed sleeping. It takes awhile to harden all up and be sturdy enough to attach things onto it.

The house is held together by Royal Icing (recipe below) Doesn’t that make you feel like a Queen? No? The scullery maid? Yeah, me too.

Unless you have ten hands, you are going to need something to hold the house together while you glue it together with the Royal Icing. Painter’s tape, soup cans, stray baskets work well. It will take a few minutes to harden. The most challenging part is trying to get all the pieces together without knocking down the ones you just put together, sort of like building a card house. If your children are already in bed, the liberal use of curse words will be appropriate, as will a glass or two of wine

pre-ornamentation

If you are going to want to make “stained glass” windows, set the gingerbread house up on a board with a hole cut in the center. That way you can put a candle, or flashlight if the house will be unattended, to shine through the windows.

Making the “stained glass” is easy. You simply need some colorful hard candy, like lifesavers or jolly ranchers. Put them inside of a ziploc bag and put that ziploc bag inside a ziploc bag and then let the children pound on them with a hammer. Unless you want brown windows, seperate the candies by color before you pound them. Remove the candy crumbs from the bag and place them on a tinfoiled lined cookie sheet. Place in the oven at 300 degrees until they melt. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the pan. You might want to score the melted candy into the sizes you want if the pieces are too large.

After they are cooled you attach them to the inside of your gingerbread house with the royal icing. BEFORE you assemble your house.

Plan on letting the house sit for awhile before you begin sticking all the candy on. If you followed my advice for sticking it together once the kids are in bed, you will be all set to decorate it the following night, New Year’s Eve. By then it is sufficiently hardened to withstand children pushing and poking at it.

All children seem to think that a gingerbread house looks best completely covered with cady. There should be no bare spots. And while this offends my artistic sensibilities, to them it is perfection. So to help them in their quest to cover the entire house with candy, I usually just slather the icing on all sides of the house. But if you want to be neater you can pipe the icing on just the places you want it.

This is the 2005 version of our gingerbread house:

100_1417

And the 2006 version:

100_80021

You can see that not much has changed, the primary objective is to stick as much candy as possible on the house. Though in Version 2006, they ventured beyond the house into decorating the “yard” with things like snowmen.

Version 2007 will be coming soon.

You will be amazed the next day at how solid the house is and will probably need some hammer-like object to break it. Unless your children are feral like mine and can destroy with their bare hands.

Enjoy.

Then go brush your teeth.

*****

Royal Icing Recipe:

You will need more of this you ever thought possible. Seriously when you are at the grocery just toss a bunch of those bags of confectioner’s sugar into your cart. Think about how many you need and then double that amount.

Make it in small batches as it hardens relatively quickly

4 egg whites
6c confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

With an electric mixer beat the egg whites with 1 cup of sugar and the cream of tartar until smooth. Then add the remaining sugar a cup at a time. Keep saran wrap over the bowl.



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15 comments so far...

  • You know Chris, people have raved about you in the blogosphere for years and I guess I never knew the full extent of your amazing powers until right now. Recipes for both gingerbread AND the icing…complete with the knowledge that I can actually do this. (*love*) I think I will try it. Maybe not this Christmas season with the house, but I’ll definately make the people to try it out first. Thanks for this.

    (now, I will try to use my “powers” to send signals to my husband that someone would really love to see a Kitchenaid standup mixer under the tree in five days)

    Chris says: I am blushing. You are too kind. And yes, you NEED a kitchenaid stand-up mixer. Do you hear that procrastadad?!?!

    Procrastamom  |  December 20th, 2007 at 6:33 pm

  • My 2ยข - Assuming you haven’t rolled the dough too thin and you haven’t let the parts dry to absolute rock-hard-ness after baking, round toothpicks work really well to hold the house together during construction: After spreading the icing and sticking the sundry parts together you can carefully skewer through a “flat” piece, (let’s say the front) and into the edge of the adjoining piece (i.e. the side wall). No need to go far - 1/2″ will do - you’ll remove all the toothpicks before decorating! It is a little tricky, but it does allow for rotating/moving the whole thing throughout the entire assembly process. Less cursing - but you can still have all the wine you want! Meybe even more. Another thing I like to do is roll out the dough, put the whole “slab” onto the cookie sheet and THEN cut around the cardboard templates, removing the “scraps” before baking the parts - fewer distorted, torn pieces.

    annie  |  December 20th, 2007 at 7:00 pm

  • Speaking as someone who has killed a mixer or two with Royal icing… Don’t attempt it if your mixer struggles with anything you have tried to mix before. Or do try it, if you want a really good excuse to go out and buy a new mixer.

    Chris says: Wow, I have never had a problem and just use a cheapie hand mixer for the icing. I am furiously knocking on wood while I type this, btw.

    JenR  |  December 20th, 2007 at 7:06 pm

  • Very cool. One of my friends just buys graham crackers and makes the royal icing to “glue” it together. I was thinking about trying it this year, but it is intimidating. Thanks for spelling it out.

    Leticia  |  December 20th, 2007 at 7:06 pm

  • Or I was thinking, roll it out on lovely, lovely parchment paper, which can be slid (hopefully without mishap) onto the cookie sheet, then back off to cool afterward. That is, if I remember to try this next year!

    Brigitte  |  December 20th, 2007 at 8:29 pm

  • What absolute brilliance to schedule this tradition for AFTER Christmas. I squeezed in an hour to put together a pre-made gingerbread house kit with my 3.5 year old 2 days ago and was definitely too stressed, thinking about all the things I should be doing, to really enjoy it. Next year we will be making our gingerbread house sometime after Christmas. Thanks for the (should have been obvious) tip!

    Carla Hinkle  |  December 20th, 2007 at 11:07 pm

  • OK, I am a cooking wuss, I admit it — this still looks complicated:( But I really really want to try it at some point… it looks like too much fun!

    Chris says:
    Nataly I promise, this is very, very easy. Maybe just try the men this year and work your way up to the house :-)

    Nataly  |  December 21st, 2007 at 4:00 am

  • Maybe this will be the year I try this too - I’ve admired it on your blog in previous years. I agree with Carla that it’s brilliant to do it after Christmas, partly as it’s less stressful and also so the children have something to look forward to after The Big Day is over for a whole year!

    Jane  |  December 21st, 2007 at 2:25 pm

  • Chris, approximately how much will this recipe make? I know that is an odd question and I’m not sure if you can even answer it, but we can’t get molasses here and only have a little left–perhaps enough for one batch–and we need to make three small houses (maybe four) We’d love to make gingerbread men, as well. I’m wondering if we’ll be able to use this recipe for the houses or just for the men.

    FWIW, we also do our gingerbread houses after Christmas. It’s just too crazy before Christmas and it’s a lovely activity to do in the free time we have after Christmas. Also a great way to use up leftover Christmas candy! We eat them on Sylvester (New Year’s Eve).


    Chris says: I would just make the batch and then divide it into 3 or 4 pieces and allow each kid to have one to make a house. The houses will be small. Alternately, you can just use what little molasses you have and make as much as you want it just won’t taste very gingerbready. Do kids care? Probably not. Good luck!

    t in hd  |  December 21st, 2007 at 4:29 pm

  • Chris, I am wanting to make the G-men with my kids this Christmas. What I am wondering is, are the ginger bread men soft or are they like ginger snaps? I am really wanting a soft recipe. Thanks!

    Chris says:
    Softer than ginger snaps. They are cookie like, not cake like. And not cracker like. I am trying to think of a comparable cookie but am at a loss. They don’t crunch when you bite them. Clear as mud??

    Tonya  |  December 21st, 2007 at 7:27 pm

  • Thanks for the reply! I think that is exactly what I am looking for!? I definitely want them to be cookie like and not cake like, but I don’t want them to be crunchy. So, I think I might have a winner :)

    Tonya  |  December 22nd, 2007 at 2:48 am

  • So Chris,
    I introduced this site to my husband. He has decided that making a gingerbread house sounds oh-so exciting and fun. Our only child is 6 months old and therefore unable to eat or help in assembly. He wants to make it and eat it all himself. He’s currently designing his house template. I’ll let you know how this goes.

    Stephanie  |  December 22nd, 2007 at 7:51 pm

  • Thanks for the reply, Chris. We’ve managed to round up about 2 1/4 cups of Molasses, so we’ll go ahead and make a double batch. Considering the rubbish my kids enjoy eating, yeah, they won’t care. It’s the candy they’re after anyway!

    t in hd  |  December 23rd, 2007 at 2:45 pm

  • My sister let me in on a little secret - not a good plan if you intend on eating the entire house but it was worth it for us. Use a hot glue gun and glue the house pieces together. Again, if you plan on eating the entire house this won’t work, but we tend to just eat as we decorate and leave the house up for decorations anyways.

    Julie  |  January 6th, 2009 at 6:56 pm

  • I’m so glad I could find this again when I’m considering doing a gb house. One question: You mentioned you usually double the recipe. Is the recipe that you included in the post already doubled? In other words, is that what you used to make your giant house and extra gb men?

    amy  |  December 3rd, 2010 at 7:35 pm

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